There was suspense in August.
Warner Robins went 2-8 in 2010, its worst season since 1966, before the current head coach had yet to move to Warner Robins.
Peach County was all set to roll out a new quarterback, one who had been tutored as a backup through the 2010 season and was the incumbent in the spring and preseason.
Then that young quarterback was lost for the season two weeks before the opener, as was the center, leaving the Trojans with a quarterback who didn’t have much practice time, as well as some gaps up front.
There was skepticism accompanied by question marks for both teams.
Fast forward four months.
Warner Robins reached the GHSA Class AAAA semifinals before losing on the road to eventual runner-up Lovejoy, and Peach County made it to the Class AAA title game, where it lost to Burke County.
For those surprising runs, Bryan Way of Warner Robins and Chad Campbell of Peach County are The Telegraph’s All-Middle Georgia GHSA Co-Coaches of the Year.
Certainly Warner Robins wasn’t expected to match that brutal 2010 season, but few figured a points-challenged team of 2010 would crack the 30-point mark six times this season and peel off an eight-game winning streak.
The Demons hadn’t won eight games in a season since 2006 and had gone 16-24 since that 9-5 mark in 2006.
Job security was a topic.
“I knew, and I think our staff knew, that if we didn’t have a good year this year, then we probably weren’t going to be around to see the 2012 season,” said Way, a 1980 Warner Robins graduate. “I don’t think that influenced the way we approached the season. We’re there for the kids, first and foremost.”
The foundation for 2011 began in 2010.
“Starting from day one in our offseason program, which started in December -- because we got through pretty early -- I noticed a different mind set with our players, especially with our seniors, and all the credit needs to go to them,” said Way, the 2004 Middle Georgia Coach of the Year. “Their leadership and their commitment level was outstanding and contagious to everybody else.”
It began with 6 a.m. “red dawn” workouts leading up to spring practice. Players had to make 10 of the 12 sessions, or they wouldn’t be in uniform.
Again, the seniors set the pace.
Ironically, the season for the co-coaches of the year began against each other, with Peach County nipping Warner Robins 7-6.
The Demons showed promise in that game, and built on it with a near-miss against Northside and survival win over Bainbridge en route to the semifinal, a 21-6 loss at Lovejoy.
“We had a lot of good high school football players that were hard-nosed, that played hard, that really cared about Warner Robins High School,” said Way, who doesn’t foresee any current seniors signing with a Division I college. “We had a lot of good high school football players who played really hard and cared about each other.”
Campbell had to wonder if the football gods were making him pay for the perfect season in 2009.
The Trojans lost quarterback Greg Williams and center Tyler Buchanan on consecutive offensive plays with ACLs in a scrimmage with Northside.
“Yeah, we can kinda laugh about it now,” said Campbell, whose initial reaction wasn’t quite for mixed company.
But Kentel Kendrick, who had been in and out of Campbell’s doghouse, had a better season than expected at quarterback. Matt Winters moved from guard to center and could be a Division I prospect next season.
“I thought defensively, we could be OK,” said Campbell, the 2009 Middle Georgia Coach of the Year. “Offensively, we had to find three linemen, had a new quarterback. We didn’t have that running back, that guy like Travis (Richmond). The last three or four or five years, we’ve had that guy who could take it to the house.
“Kind of thought there would be some trying times.”
Instead, Kendrick and the running game developed quickly, the offensive line jelled, and the defense lived up to expectations.
“Just to see how the coaches got the most out of the players; I thought they got about as much as you can get out of the kids, and that’s a testament to the coaches,” he said. “You can have all the all-stars you want to, but if they don’t play for you, don’t respond to your coaching, then you ain’t done a really good job.
“We had a bunch of unselfish players. This was a good group that played well together.”